AFC South: Cassius Vaughn

Colts could end up needing help at CB

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Cornerback is an intriguing position for the Indianapolis Colts this offseason.

Vontae Davis is about to hit the free-agent market unless for some reason the Colts decide to use their franchise tag on him. Davis is the Colts' top priority when it comes to re-signing their own players. Cassius Vaughn, who started some in place of the injured Greg Toler, is also a free agent.

And speaking of Toler, he still has two years remaining on his contract but the Colts can’t count on him because he brought his injury problems with him to Indianapolis from Arizona. Toler missed seven games with a groin injury last season and was ineffective in the games he played in when he returned before the Colts finally placed him on injured reserve.

Which direction the Colts go in the draft is a toss up because they have a number of needs and they have limited picks (second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds).

The defensive backs are scheduled to have on-field workouts during the scouting combine on Feb. 25.

Here are the top 10 cornerbacks in this year’s draft, according to Mel Kiper Jr.

1. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
2. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
3. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
4. Jason Verrett, TCU
5. Marcus Roberson, Florida
6. Bradley Roby, Ohio State
7. Keith McGill, Utah
8. Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
9. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
10. Bashaud Breeland, Clemson

Kiper had Gilbert, Dennard, Roberson and Roby being selected in the first round in his most recent mock draft.
INDIANAPOLIS -- If the way Greg Toler walked around the locker room Thursday afternoon was any indication, you probably shouldn't expect to see the Indianapolis Colts cornerback in the lineup against the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon.

Toler
Toler didn't walk like a player who is ready to return to the lineup after missing the past six games with a groin injury. He gingerly walked around the locker room during the portion that's open to the media. Where Toler stands health wise was put more into perspective when the injury report was released late Thursday afternoon.

He went from being limited in practice Wednesday to not practicing at all Thursday. Not practicing Thursday makes me think Toler won't play against the Texans because he said at the start of the week that he needed to get through full week of practice and also be 100 percent healthy before returning to the lineup.

That obviously didn't happen.

It has gotten to the point that the Colts should think about shutting Toler down for the rest of the season. This groin injury is about to head into the eighth week when you count the bye week.

Coach Chuck Pagano said a couple of weeks ago that they didn't plan on shutting Toler down. It'll be interesting to see if he still feels the same way when he addresses the media Friday.

The Colts will only have two regular-season games remaining after facing the Texans. They play at Kansas City on Dec. 22. I wouldn't be surprised if Toler misses that game, too. He talked last week about how freezing temperatures impact his groin because it's difficult to keep it warm while on the sidelines.

The Colts could use Toler's help in the secondary. They have given up an average of 31 points and 401 yards per game in the past seven games. Pagano has already changed the lineup by putting Darrius Butler in for Cassius Vaughn, who had been starting for Toler.

But at some point you have to throw in the towel and just call it quits for the season with Toler.
Donald BrownAP Photo/AJ MastDonald Brown's touchdown late in the fourth quarter sealed the game for the Colts.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Change was necessary.

It wasn't an easy task to pull off because the cupboard had limited options. But the Indianapolis Colts had to do something because things simply weren't working.

You wouldn't have known that the Colts went into Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans with a two-game lead in the AFC South by the way they had play in the four games prior.

That's what prompted the moves to be made.

All is not fixed, but when the clock struck all zeroes at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts walked off the field 22-14 winners and on the brink of winning their first division title since 2010.

"That was a backyard street brawl man," Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. "You got called out in your neighborhood by the biggest kid and you have to fight. And that's what it was. Both of us are a really fighting for the division...We knew it was going to be a tough division game and definitely get the bad taste out of our mouths. We never want to have one loss turn into two."

The Colts (8-4) have been ravished with injuries, including to veteran Reggie Wayne, and their play at times has left some wondering how they've managed to win eight games this season.

Here they stand with a three-game lead in the division with only four to play. The Colts can wrap things up with a victory at Cincinnati or if the Titans lose at Denver next weekend.

"We're not exhaling," coach Chuck Pagano said. "The division is not sewn up. We're going to do everything within our power to keep trending in the right direction."

Out went cornerback Cassius Vaughn. Out went guard Mike McGlynn. And out went running back Trent Richardson, further proving that the trade with Cleveland earlier this season has been a bust.

Enter cornerback Darius Butler, guard Jeff Linkenbach and running back Donald Brown.

Vaughn responded to his demotion by getting two of Indianapolis' three interceptions. Brown was held to eight yards on eight attempts until he had six carries for 46 yards and a touchdown on the Colts' final offensive series.

"We're always trying to just make decisions based on what's best for the team and what gives us the best chance to win," Pagano said. "We made a decision to give a couple guys an opportunity and move forward."

But this is only one game.

The Colts know that, too. That's why they didn't strut around the locker room after the game like all was well again.

The flaws are still there and they'd be even more glaring if future Hall-of-Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri didn't make five field goals -- four coming from at least 45 yards -- and the defense didn't force four turnovers.

The Colts will have a difficult time winning a playoff game if they continue to play like this.

"We know we can't survive our mistakes forever," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I know it sounds a bit like a broken record, but sometimes you just got to gut a win out, no matter how ugly it is. ... We still got a lot of mistakes to clean up."

Speaking of broken records, where have you heard this before? It's a miracle that Luck is able to continue to shake off all the hits he takes during the game.

Inserting Linkenbach into the starting lineup didn't improve an offensive line that needs to be upgraded in the offseason for the second straight year. Luck was sacked five times, including four in the second quarter.

The Colts did manage to score 12 points in the first half, but they haven't scored a touchdown in the first 30 minutes of a game since tight end Coby Fleener caught an 8-yard pass from Luck in the second quarter against Denver on Oct. 20 and Indianapolis was still considered a threat in the AFC.

"We know going down the stretch here that you've got to score touchdowns and try to put people away," Pagano said. "You let people hang around, you're just asking for trouble. Great win, but we still got obviously a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but really proud of the guys, proud of the coaches, proud of the players."

And proud to be closing in on a division title.

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

December, 1, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 22-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

What it means: It was far from a thing of beauty -- it was even ugly at times -- but the Colts control their own fate in the AFC South. The victory gives them a three-game lead over the Titans with four games left in the season. The ageless wonder Adam Vinatieri kicked five field goals and the Colts found their ground game on their final offensive series to seal the game. Running back Donald Brown had six carries for 46 yards on the drive that gave them an eight-point lead. He capped it off with a touchdown run. Brown, who replaced Trent Richardson in the starting lineup, had eight carries for 8 yards prior to the final drive.

No protection: The Colts shook up their offensive line some by moving right guard Mike McGlynn to the bench and replacing him with Jeff Linkenbach. That didn’t stop the Titans from being able to get after Andrew Luck. The Titans sacked Luck five times, including four times in the second quarter alone.

Getting defensive: The Colts also changed things up some in the secondary. Cassius Vaughn had been starting for the injured Greg Toler at cornerback, but he was replaced by Darius Butler. The demotion woke Vaughn up, as he intercepted Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. Linebacker Robert Mathis added to his league lead in sacks -- 15.5 -- when he got a strip-sack of Fitzpatrick in the second half. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman iced the game when he picked off Fitzpatrick's pass in Colts territory with 24 seconds left.

Still no offense in the first half: The good news for the Colts is that they went into the half with a 12-7 lead. The bad news is that they still can’t score any touchdowns in the first half. The Colts have had 31 possessions and 153 plays in the first half of their past five games. They haven’t scored a touchdown in any of those halves.

What’s next: The Colts can clinch the AFC South if they can go on the road and beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 8.

Practice report: Toler to miss fifth game

November, 29, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts starting cornerback Greg Toler will miss his fifth straight game with a groin injury.

Coach Chuck Pagano is optimistic that Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans will be the last game Toler misses.

Toler
“It’s disappointing and frustrating, nobody more than Greg, that thing hasn’t come back as fast as he would like, but he’s real close,” Pagano said. “I’d be shocked if he wasn’t back next week. I’m not going to make any promises or guarantees, obviously.”

Cassius Vaughn will continue to start in Toler's place.

Pagano also said Chris Rainey, whom the Colts signed Nov. 20, will return kickoffs against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The Colts released David Reed earlier this week.

Here’s a breakdown of the rest of the injured players.
INDIANAPOLIS – The good news for the Indianapolis Colts is that they know Bruce Arians' Arizona Cardinals will throw the ball downfield a lot in Sunday's game. The Colts did the same thing under Arians last season.

The bad news is that Indianapolis' secondary has a tendency to give up big plays.

Houston’s Andre Johnson had nine catches for 229 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts on Nov. 3. St. Louis’ Tavon Austin had two catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns the following week.

Vaughn
Davis
Now the Colts get to face Arizona receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd and quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw for 419 yards against Jacksonville last weekend.

“Run it and throw it down the field as far as you can and complete a lot of them,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said about Arizona’s offense. “[Arians has] been doing it a long time. He’s a great playcaller. We all know that. You see a lot of similarities in there and he’s utilizing their talent very well.”

The struggling secondary may be without one of its starting cornerbacks for the fourth straight game. Greg Toler hasn’t practiced this week because of a groin injury. He wants to play Sunday because he spent his first four seasons with the Cardinals, but he tweaked his groin while working out Monday. Safety LaRon Landry also hasn’t practiced this week because of a toe injury, although he said he believes he'll play Sunday.

Vontae Davis and Cassius Vaughn, who started in place of Toler in his absence, will be matched up on Fitzgerald and Floyd, who have combined for 1,211 yards and nine touchdowns this season. The Cardinals became the first team since 1971 to have touchdown receptions of at least 80 and 90 yards in a season when Floyd scored on a 91-yard pass against Jacksonville.

“He’s a future Hall of Famer and he’s still playing at a high level and making plays, 45 catches and six touchdowns,” Pagano said about Fitzgerald. “Floyd and the rest of the guys, they got a bunch of skill guys, they got a bunch of playmakers. Carson’s doing a good job of spreading the wealth and getting the ball out to them.”

The Colts have to take advantage of Arizona’s weak offensive line and put pressure on Palmer. He’s thrown for 2,573 yards this season, but he’s also been picked off 15 times and sacked 27 times.

Colts linebacker Robert Mathis leads in the league with 13.5 sacks. Only three quarterbacks – Miami's Ryan Tannehill, Denver’s Peyton Manning and Houston’s Case Keenum – have thrown for more than 300 yards against Indianapolis this season.

“A heck of a quarterback who can throw the ball downfield,” Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. “Again, back end we got to challenge. And they’re up for it. Our guys, we don’t back down from a fight. We stand up, and even when everybody points us down and says we’re not going to do anything, that’s when we rise up the best and we go out there and showcase it. I believe my guys on the back end, our defensive unit, our DBs are going to step up and rise to the occasion. Everybody on the defense is going to rise up and play the ball game.”

Greg Toler out against Houston

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts starting cornerback Greg Toler will miss Sunday's game against the Houston Texans because of groin injury.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano is giving the silent treatment on who will replace Toler in the starting lineup. The only thing Pagano would say is that it’ll be either Cassius Vaughn or Darius Butler.

Butler is the team’s nickelback, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Vaughn starts at cornerback because of how well Butler plays the nickel position.

Butler has 16 tackles, eight passes defended and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, this season.

“I like nickel because you have to talk more, you can make calls with the corner and the safety,” Butler said when asked his preference. “I like that because it makes me think more, anticipate more, watch more film.”

Safety Delano Howell (neck) and cornerback Josh Gordy (groin) are also out against the Texans. Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was held out of practice Friday as a precaution because of a hamstring problem, but Pagano said he should play Sunday. Center Samson Satele (knee) and linebacker Bjoern Werner (foot) are also expected to be in the lineup.

Predicting the Colts' 53-man roster

August, 30, 2013
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Here’s my projection at what the Colts' 53-man roster will look like:

Quarterback

Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck

Comment: The Colts are in good hands with Luck and Hasselbeck.

Running back

Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, Kerwynn Williams

Comment: Williams locked in his spot as the fourth running back by rushing for 92 yards against Cincinnati. He’ll also likely return kicks.

Fullback

Stanley Havili, Dominique Jones

Comment: Havili proved that he can be another option for Luck to throw to out of the backfield against Cleveland last weekend.

Wide receiver

Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey, TY Hilton, LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen, David Reed

Comment: Colts are set with Wayne, Heyward-Bey and Hilton, but depth is still a concern at receiver.

Tight end

Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Justice Cunningham

Comment: You have to cross your fingers that Fleener’s preseason problems were just that and they won’t linger into the regular season.

Offensive line

Anthony Castonzo, Donald Thomas, Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn, Gosder Cherilus, Hugh Thornton, Joe Reitz, Khaled Holmes, Jeff Linkenbach

Comment: The Colts’ scoring success depends heavily on how well this unit protects Luck

Defense

Defensive line

Cory Redding, Josh Chapman, Ricky Jean Francois, Aubrayo Franklin, Montori Hughes, Lawrence Guy, Drake Nevis

Comment: The defensive line has to prove it can stop the run.

Linebackers

Robert Mathis, Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner, Caesar Rayford, Pat Angerer, Jerrell Freeman, Kavell Conner, Mario Harvey, Kelvin Sheppard

Comment: Rayford is the surprise name on this list, but the 27-year-old former Canadian and Arena League player earned a roster spot by having a very strong training camp.

Cornerbacks

Greg Toler, Vontae Davis, Darius Butler, Cassius Vaughn, Josh Gordy

Comment: The Colts are in good hands if Davis and Butler play like they did during the preseason.

Safeties

LaRon Landry, Antoine Bethea, Joe Lefeged, Larry Asante

Comment: Asante made a strong case to make the roster with an interception against Cleveland and 13 tackles against Cincinnati. Don’t count out Sergio Brown, though.

Special teams

Adam Vinatieri, Pat McAfee, Matt Overton

Comment: No comment necessary

Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star made his 53-man roster projection earlier this week.

Conrad Brunner of 1070 The Fan did the same.

What to watch for: Colts-Browns

August, 24, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The third preseason game is the one to keep an eye on. It’s the game where you can get a better indication of where the team stands because the starting unit usually plays into the third quarter.

That’s the plan Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano has with his starters in Saturday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

Here’s what to watch for:

1. A running attack: I'm like most of you, I'm waiting for the Colts' power-running game, discussed by offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton in training camp, to show up. The Colts haven't even teased us with anything yet. They're averaging 3.1 yards a carry in the preseason. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw won't join Vick Ballard in the backfield Saturday, because the team doesn’t want to rush Bradshaw back on the field after practicing in pads for the first time this week. Not having tight ends Coby Fleener (knee) and Dwayne Allen (foot) to block will make things more difficult for the Colts. So in other words, you likely won't see anything that resembles a power-running game until at least Week 1 against Oakland. Good thing quarterback Andrew Luck (13-of-19 and a 128.8 passer rating) has looked sharp in the preseason.

2. Stopping the run: Is giving up 115.5 yards a game on the ground in two preseason games bad? Yes, but you also have to take into consideration that the starters spent the majority of those games on the sideline watching. What is alarming, though, is that the defense has given up runs of 17, 15 and 21 yards on three of their opponent’s first four runs of the game. The starters will be tested again against Browns running back Trent Richardson. You have every reason to wonder if the defense can improve on being 29th in the league in rushing yards allowed last season if Richardson has a strong game against the starters.

3. Debut time: Speaking of the defense, it will have the starting unit on paper together for the first time in the preseason. Safety LaRon Landry (knee) and linebacker Pat Angerer (foot) are expected to play. Landry will join a secondary -- Antoine Bethea, Vontae Davis and Greg Toler -- that has been solid in the preseason. Toler, a free-agent signing in the offseason, had an interception against the New York Giants on Aug 18. Angerer and Landry are familiar with the defensive scheme, it’s a matter of them getting game reps, especially Landry. Angerer, who spent the first part of training camp on the physically unable to perform list while working his way back from offseason foot surgery, could get between 15 and 20 snaps. Rookie guard Hugh Thornton is also making his preseason debut. Thornton, who injured his ankle right before training camp, will likely back up Jeff Linkenbach at guard.

4. Final audition: Rosters must be trimmed from 90 to 75 players by Tuesday. Keep an eye on the receiver spot. The Colts are still looking for a fourth and fifth receiver. LaVon Brazill, currently the fourth receiver, is suspended the first four games of the season. Jeremy Kelley, Nathan Palmer, Jabin Sambrano, Lanear Sampson and Griff Whalen aren’t taking advantage of the opportunity. There is a reason why general manager Ryan Grigson went out and signed receiver Maurice Williams this week.

5. Special teams: Rookie Kerwynn Williams, Sambrano and Cassius Vaughn have handled kickoff return duties in the first two games. David Reed might get a shot to return kicks Saturday. He was acquired in the trade that sent running Delone Carter to Baltimore this week. Reed led the league by averaging 29.3 yards a kickoff return in 2010.
ANDERSON, Ind. – The Indianapolis Colts wrapped up their training camp Friday with Adam Vinatieri nailing a 50-yard field goal. They signed some autographs and then made a mad dash down I-69 to get back to their own beds after almost three weeks of sleeping in a college dorm.

The Colts obviously feel better now than they did when they opened camp on July 28. But there’s still the unknown of what type of team they’ll be. Part of it is because they’ve only played one preseason game. The other part is because they’ve dealt with injuries throughout camp.

Two likely starters -- free safety LaRon Landry and running back Ahmad Bradshaw -- worked out with a handful of their teammates on the practice field Friday while the rest of the team practiced in shoulder pads and helmets on the main field.

Tight end Dwayne Allen, who is rotating between orthotics and walking boot, is still out. Linebacker Pat Angerer just started practicing this week after spending the first part of camp on the physically unable to perform list. Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey missed a little time with a sprained left knee. Same goes for linebacker Jerrell Freeman (shoulder).

So it’s way too early to say the Colts are definitely going to be a better team. You won’t get an indication of that until they have everybody healthy again. Coach Chuck Pagano said the injuries have set them “back a little bit.”

I touched on a lot of things in the Camp Confidential, which ran Friday. Here are some other observations from camp:
  • Receiver T.Y. Hilton is listed as the third receiver behind Reggie Wayne and Heyward-Bey, but don’t be surprised if he replaces DHB as the second receiver at some point. Hilton has outplayed DHB so far because of DHB’s inconsistency in catching the football. Whether he moves up to the No. 2 receiver or stays at No. 3, expect Hilton to have a great second season because of his speed – and confidence.
  • The secondary should be better this season. Corners Vontae Davis and Greg Toler were aggressive in pursuing the ball throughout camp. Darius Butler and Cassius Vaughn are battling it out to the be the nickel back. You know what you’re going to get out of Antoine Bethea. But again, you can’t give a complete assessment of the secondary because of Landry’s injury. That’s why I only said “should” in talking about the secondary.
  • Receiver Griff Whalen went from being the media darling and looking like he had the inside track to be the fifth receiver to joining Landry and Bradshaw on the practice field Friday because of a groin injury, which sidelined him most of the week. The injury moves Whalen back to the middle of the pack with the rest of the receivers trying to impress the coaching staff to be the fifth receiver. LaVon Brazill is the fourth receiver behind Wayne, DHB and Hilton.
  • Two things were discussed when talking about the offensive line in camp. Buffalo’s Mario Williams beating tackle Anthony Castonzo for clear shot on Andrew Luck last weekend and Robert Mathis putting on one of those it’s-time-to-stop-practice-for-a-moment moves on Castanzo to get to the quarterback dummy during a blitz drill earlier this week. Williams got to Luck because of a cadence mishap. But all in all, the offensive line hasn’t looked bad. “From a physical standpoint they’ve got the right mindset and attitude,” Pagano said. “They are athletic guys, communication-wise, they are on the same page.” You like to hear that.
  • Oh yeah, that player wearing No. 12 – Luck – had a great camp. But you expected that. So that’s no surprise.

LB Hickman may be out for the season

August, 12, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS - The Indianapolis Colts have taken a hit in the linebacker department.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano said second-year linebacker Justin Hickman will need foot surgery and that will likely cost him the season. Hickman suffered the injury in Sunday's preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Pagano said cornerback Cassius Vaughn is day-to-day after the MRI and X-rays done on his wrist came back negative. Defensive lineman Montori Hughes is also day-to-day with a stinger. Linebacker Quinton Spears will be out about a week with a hamstring injury.
We pick up our series in which ESPN.com’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, ranks the AFC South position-by-position.

Today, we examine defensive backs.

Williamson’s AFC South defensive backs rankings:
1) Texans (Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning, Ed Reed, Kareem Jackson, Brice McCain, D.J. Swearinger, Brandon Harris, Roc Carmichael)
2) Titans (Jason McCourty, Bernard Pollard, Michael Griffin, Alterraun Verner, George Wilson, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh)
3) Colts (Vontae Davis, LaRon Landry, Antoine Bethea, Greg Toler, Darius Butler, John Boyett, Cassius Vaughn)
4) Jaguars (Dwayne Gratz, Johnathan Cyprien, Dwight Lowery, Alan Ball, Josh Evans, Mike Harris, Marcus Trufant, Jeremy Harris, Demetrius McCray)

I think this order is virtually impossible to debate, and you should be clicking the top entry in the poll to the right.

SportsNation

Matt Williamson's ranking of AFC South defensive back units is:

  •  
    68%
  •  
    21%
  •  
    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,681)

My questions for Williamson based off of his list:

Your overall assessment please:

“Overall thoughts are I really like Houston's secondary and really dislike Jacksonville's. The other two? I would say are pretty much the definition of middle of the road.”

What's the gap between Texans and Titans?

“The gap between Houston and Tennessee is substantial. That isn't to say that the Titans have a poor secondary -- and I would say they did improve it at both corner and safety.”

What's Ed Reed have left and what can he do for the Texans?

“Reed's best days are long behind him, but I love the addition to the Texans for one huge reason: He is a winner from a great organization and what he brings behind the scenes could pay off HUGE. The Texans really are not that far from being an expansion team and most of their best players are all home grown players-that have never won the big one. Reed, a future Hall of Famer coming off a SB win brings instant credibility to the locker room and even if he doesn't play at a real high level, is a great addition-and something Houston should have done long ago.”

If you were just ranking CBs what order would you have them in? If you were just ranking safeties?

“Just CBs: I think I would keep it exactly the same. Just safeties? Tough to really gauge Jacksonville, but they still have to be last and again, I think I would keep the order the same. More so than some of the other position groups in the division, this order is pretty clear to me.”

What rookies do you expect to have the biggest impact?

“The rookie defensive back that I expect to make the biggest impact is definitely Cyprien. I think he will be a star in this league, was a great value where Jacksonville took him and will been all around impact player, even early in his career.”

The Titans view McCourty as a solid No. 1 and the Colts feel the same about Davis. Can you compare and contrast them?

“I think both are good cornerbacks, but neither is truly a No. 1. To me, Davis is more talented and more equipped to play coverage against the opponent's No. 1 receiver, but also is more inconsistent overall.”

Can you rate the nickel situations?

“Butler has played well at times for the Colts, but I would say they are a little deficient when they go to sub packages, where Tennessee should be in better shape with their top three corners, as I think Wreh-Wilson should do a fine job (despite some rookie struggles) on the outside in nickel, but this makes the Titans' slot situation very good.”

As for me…

Jackson really blossomed last season when Joseph dealt with a bunch of injuries. If a healthy Joseph returns to form, they could be one of the best cornerback duos in the league. I’ve written about Reed’s swagger and like Williamson, I expect he’ll have a great effect even if he isn’t always playing or isn’t playing quite up to his standards.

Pollard has been outspoken and brings an attitude the Titans have been lacking on defense. He’s an upgrade for certain on early downs. But George Wilson may be the better overall player. I know the Titans will find snaps for all three of their guys and not just in a three-safety nickel or dime package.

The Colts secondary improvement is likely to hinge on health. Can Toller stay on the field after dealing with elbow, back, foot, hip and hamstring injuries in his first four seasons? Landry has a repaired Achilles but recovered for a complete season last year with the Jets. Without either of them, depth would quickly be tested with guys like Cassius Vaughn or Joe Lefeged potentially in nickel and dime packages.

A lot of people are going to have terrible expectations of the Jaguars. But kids can play well quickly in the secondary, and from what I saw at minicamp, Cyprien is my pick for defensive breakout player in the division. Gratz looked good too. Lowery is solid as the other safety. They need cornerbacks to emerge but could surpass expectations.
How does each AFC South team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Houston Texans

News that No. 1 cornerback Johnathan Joseph had sports hernias repaired early in the offseason was actually a good development. He was even more hurt than we knew last year, which serves to explain why he was hardly the player in 2012 he had been in 2011. A healthy Joseph will be much better. Kareem Jackson blossomed as the second corner, and Brice McCain returns as a fairly steady nickel. Danieal Manning is the strong safety with Ed Reed roaming and ball hawking as the deeper guy. Rookie D.J. Swearinger should work as the third safety and be an upgrade over the two guys who played in that role a year ago. He’s also insurance for the aging Reed. Corner depth is a concern, but isn’t that the case for almost every team? I expect big things from this group.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are counting on free-agent addition Greg Toler as a starting corner opposite Vontae Davis. If he pans out as they project, they will improve. If he doesn’t, the depth is poor with Cassius Vaughn still in the mix. Darius Butler is a quality nickel cornerback. Antoine Bethea should be back to form when given a better partner at safety in free-agent acquisition LaRon Landry, provided Landry stays healthy. Safety depth has Joe Lefeged at the head of the line. He can be productive in spot duty, but if they need him for a long stretch, it’ll be an issue. Toler’s production in an expanded role and Landry’s health are the two big keys.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have an incredibly young group. Safety Dwight Lowery and likely starting cornerback Alan Ball are entering their sixth seasons. The other starting safety will be John Cyprien, a second-round pick, and the other starting cornerback will be Dwayne Gratz, a third-rounder. Depth is a major question. The nickelback could be the wise old man of the group -- Marcus Trufant -- or second-year man Mike Harris or a player to be determined. Primary depth will come from three more rookies: corner Demetrius McCray and Jeremy Harris and safety Josh Evans. Cyprien already looks excellent, and Gratz was very good in minicamp. Still, inexperience will be a big factor in this defensive backfield.

Tennessee Titans

Free safety Michael Griffin's game has dropped off significantly in recent years. At least part of it has been the team’s inability to allow him to be the center fielder, which is what he should be best at. With veterans Bernard Pollard and George Wilson added to man the strong safety spot, Griffin has a chance to be a lot better. Jason McCourty is a topflight corner. The other job can be wrestled away from Alterraun Verner as the Titans look to play more man coverage with Tommie Campbell or rookie Blidi Wreh-Wilson in contention. Coty Sensabaugh is a developing nickel, and Verner has a knack for the job as well. They need a better push up front to help them all out.
Football Outsiders continues their red flags series Wednesday, hitting on the AFC South.

Tom Gower takes on the biggest remaining issue for each team.

Houston Texans

Gower says wide receiver: “Considered about the most pro-ready receiver in this year's draft, the Texans are counting on (DeAndre Hopkins') relatively polished route-running skills and natural hands to let him step in as a starter immediately. Most late first-round receivers of late have been eased into the lineup, but the Texans need Hopkins to be a high-impact player immediately.

Kuharsky counters: Sure, Hopkins’ development is a big storyline going forward. But the right side of the offensive line is more of a lingering issue and didn't add a first-round pick. Right tackle Derek Newton is recovering from major knee surgery, and could lose out to third-rounder Brennan Williams. Veteran Ryan Harris could be in the mix as well. Second-year right guards Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks are promising, but also need to prove they are going to be better and solidify a line that needs more consistency on the right side.

Indianapolis Colts

Gower says cornerback: “(Greg Toler) ranked in the top 10 in success rate and yards per pass. However, those stats are heavily dependent on Toler's role. His career history suggests that Toler can be a good nickel or dime corner, as he was in Arizona last year, but that he struggles when asked to play a full-time role.”

Kuharsky concurs: A cornerback pool of Vontae Davis, Toler, Darius Butler, Cassius Vaughn and Josh Gordy really could have used one more solid entry, perhaps between Davis and Toler, but certainly between Butler and Vaughn. Cornerback depth is an issue for most teams, and it was more than a bit surprising that the Colts didn’t add one in the draft. It’s good they didn’t reach, but they might still be on the lookout for some additional help.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Gower says quarterback: ”It is very hard to win games with quarterback play as bad as the Jaguars have had recently, and generally requires a strong defense (the Jaguars ranked 28th by Football Outsiders in defensive DVOA in 2012) and a strong running game (the Jaguars ranked 27th by DVOA there). The addition of (Luke) Joeckel and the return to health by Maurice Jones-Drew should mean an improved running game in 2013, but another season of (Blaine) Gabbert and/or (Chad) Henne behind center likely means another high draft pick for Jacksonville in April 2014.”

Kuharsky counters: Gower, pretty much agrees with my thinking here. Sure they need a quarterback. But I don’t see a move they should have made that they didn’t make, and neither does he. Wait a year, build elsewhere, make things better for the next quarterback in a year. So setting quarterback aside, my concern is the pass rush, where they really haven’t added anything on the edge and don’t have sufficient depth.

Tennessee Titans

Gower says defense: “The Titans seem to be counting on a lot of internal improvement, better coaching with the addition of senior defensive assistant Gregg Williams (though Jerry Gray returns as defensive coordinator) and an offense that can do a better job of sustaining drives. While Tennessee fielded a particularly young defense in 2012 and some internal improvement is likely, most defenses that improve quickly devote more resources to adding better players.”

Kuharsky specifies: You can’t have too many pass-rushers, and counting on dramatic improvement from multiple holdovers seems shaky. So I’d narrow Gower’s category to defensive end. The team could sign John Abraham or Israel Idonije, two veteran ends who have visited recently. Adding one would make me feel a lot better about the team at end beyond Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley and fifth-rounder Lavar Edwards.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

With the draft in the rearview mirror, what is the most pressing issue on each AFC South team’s agenda?

Houston Texans: Get DeAndre Hopkins up to speed. The Texans like their first-round draft pick’s experience and think he will be a contributor right from the beginning. So they need to get the receiver on an accelerated program as quickly as possible. The crash course will include time with Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub. Rookie minicamp is May 10-12. Then there are OTAs May 20-21, May 23, May 28-30, June 3-6 and the team’s mandatory minicamp June 11-13. Those will be crucial days for Hopkins to get up to speed. The more he can get out of the spring and summer work, the better off he will be for training camp and the preseason. The more he can get out of all of that, the better the chances he’ll be making plays for the Texans' offense on Sept. 9 in San Diego.

Indianapolis Colts: It’s not as if there are quality veteran cornerbacks out on the market waiting on teams to step forward. But the Colts should continue to consider outside options. They signed Greg Toler as a free agent, re-signed Darius Butler and kept youngsters Cassius Vaughn and Josh Gordy. Safety John Boyett, drafted in the sixth round, can be a help in sub packages as a cover man. But the Colts are going to need a contribution from a fourth corner at some point, and neither Vaughn nor Gordy did much to gain confidence last year. Maybe they make leaps in their second year in the system. But Indianapolis should be looking to add to the group to improve competition and options.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Teach and teach some more. The team’s offseason work will be heavy on getting players up to speed on the new systems of coach Gus Bradley and coordinator Bob Babich on defense and Jedd Fisch on offense. The defense will be something like Seattle’s with the corners asked to be really physical at the line and a hybrid outside linebacker/end keying the rush with speed as a Leo. The offense will put Blaine Gabbert on the move more and look a bit like what Houston does. It’s different. So holdovers, new veterans, draft choices and undrafted rookies all have a lot to learn and get comfortable with.

Tennessee Titans: Begin to jell. It’s not a process that can be accelerated, but the Titans could have as many as seven new starters. They have 12 free-agent additions and eight draftees added to the mix. They need the newcomers to meld with the guys in place, forge offensive and defensive identities and establish who will lead and who should be followed. Only so much of that can happen before camp. But in a rookie orientation camp, the remaining OTAs and minicamp, a lot of important seeds can be planted that might be able to take root before training camp starts in late July to get ready for a crucial season.

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